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Valley academy teaching autistic people life skills

From gardening to making soup for the Culinary Works program to learning how to ride the bus: SARRC’s Vocational Life Skills Academy is making a difference in the lives of those with autism.

“I’m cutting the flowers off of [this basil],” said Curtis, a student at the school. “Because if you let them go to flower, it changes the flavor and it’s not good for the Culinary Works’ soup.”

Curtis said he’s always wanted to get into gardening.

Chris Smith, Vice President and Director of Research for SARRC, said so much of autism research focuses on genetics and early detection.

“While it does do lots of good things for future generations, it doesn’t really do much to help people today,” he said.

Smith said that here at the Life Skills Academy, the focus is on applied research.

“We are attempting, through our clinical programs, to give individuals with autism the experiences they need to enrich their lives; to increase their quality of life.”

And they’re measuring that success.

“Are they able to fill their days with more meaningful activities than they would have previously because they participated in one of our programs? That’s the data that we need to collect,” Smith said.

Back in the garden, another student, Rick, is cutting up milk cartons to use as planters.

“Well, right now we’re growing some sunflowers, we’re going to plant a few veggies like eggplant, corn, tomatoes,” said Rick. “I do love working in the garden.”

That’s something Smith loves to hear.

“What we’re probably most excited about is that we’re to the success of individuals who, otherwise, would have a very difficult time out there,” he said.